After clearing the westernmost point of Banderas Bay, we turned left and headed for the first waypoint given us by our weather router. Our usual approach to ocean crossings is to point the boat towards where we want to go. If you look at our track crossing the Atlantic, you’ll see that’s exactly what we did, and that served us well.
However, between Mexico and the Marquesas, there’s a significant area of Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) to get through. Unfortunately, that area – the doldrums – is full of squalls. And that gives us the willies. The problem is that the nasty bits move around, so it’s impossible to plan where best to cross with any degree of accuracy. Some latitudes are better than others, but we felt this was beyond our pay grade, and we’d better get a man in.
Bob McDavitt (known as MetBob) has studied weather in the Pacific Ocean for years. He used to work for the Met Office in New Zealand, blogs about the weather every week, and guides vessels to and from various ports throughout the Pacific. So, we got in touch with him, told him our plans, and Bob asked us to let him know a week before leaving Mexico. So, we did, and he sent us back an overview together with directions, and off we went.
Periodically, Bob would email with a revision to our route to maximise our use of wind and current. Some of this felt very alien to us because it took us away from our destination, although our inclination was to go straight towards the Marquesas. But we stuck with it and altered our course as instructed.
It seemed to pay off well. Compared with other boats that took the more direct route, we were ahead by a significant margin. Apart from motor-sailing to quickly get out of the ITCZ, that’s the only time it was necessary to use the iron donkey.
It’s surprising how much current flows in this area. Granted, it’s nothing like the Gulf Stream, but it’s fast enough to give a 2-knot boost at times.
Fishing and Dolphins
If I had £1 for every lure I’ve lost, I’d be at least £15 down on each one. Those things are expensive, and I’ve lost many of them recently. It’s a triple whammy: not only are my lure stocks depleting, but the fish gets away (and I like to imagine it’s a 20-kilo tuna or mahi-mahi each time), and I’m not too fond of the thought of a fish swimming around with a hook hanging out of its mouth.
The issue has always been the fish biting through the monofilament leader attached to the hook, leaving me with nothing but the leader. So, in one of our anchorages in Mexico, Steve on Aloha gave me a masterclass on tying lures using a steel leader.
Sorted, I thought, except when I caught a fish this time with my new toughened tackle, about 1000 miles from the Marquesas. Instead of the line breaking, the metal on the swivel snapped this time. I was furious. And poorer. Those shackles are rated to over 75 kg. The breaking strength of the line is a lot less than that. I want my money back.
The only consolation was that a pod of dolphins arrived soon after losing the tackle. That was the second time the dolphins came for an extended visit. They spent at least half an hour playing in the bow wave before we entered the doldrums.
After the usual few days of queasiness, Maria felt well enough to do things in the galley. She started working on expanding our waistlines with a selection of high calorie, high carb treats: bread, chocolate pancakes, waffles, lemon curd and cake. I’m not complaining about any of this. Everything she cooks is delicious, and that sort of food is very welcome on passage. I just hope I can get my shorts back on when we need to go ashore.
We kept our watch pattern the same as last time we crossed the Pacific Ocean. My watch from 8 pm to 2 am, and Maria’s from 2 am until 8 am. One on watch, the other sleeping. And during the day, we operated a more flexible system to ensure we each got enough rest. The only time we deviated from that pattern was in the doldrums, where hyper-vigilance is needed. Then we each did 4 hours at a time, but just for one day.
The sailing was excellent. Much of it was downwind at the start of our voyage, but after crossing the equator (Maria donated a beer to Neptune), the wind shifted to the southeast to make it a mostly beam reach to the Marquesas. The only frustration we had was not being able to hoist the ballooner sail. The halyard for that was on the wrong side of a protective horn at the top of the mast. How that happened, we don’t know. But the result was that we couldn’t get the ballooner hook to engage. Despite not having twin headsails up, we still managed consistent speeds of over 8 knots sailing wing on wing, so it wasn’t bad.
As for breakages: one shackle and a few stitches on the genoa sail.
The shackle on the mizzen outhaul car fractured, which made a hell of a bang and sent the mizzen sail flapping about. Fortunately, it was easy to furl back on its mast. The repair is a bit of a faff, though, because the car needs to be removed from the track to fit a new shackle. But Amel supplies short lengths of track with the boat so that the car can be taken off the boom to be fixed without losing any of the ball bearings or having to cling on like a nautical sloth. Clever stuff.
We remained in touch with two other boats that set off at the same time as us to share progress: Moorea, are a family of four in a catamaran, and Hold Fast, a monohull with two persons on board. Our IridiumGo! makes it easy to send text messages and emails to others without worrying about data allowance – there isn’t one. But, although unlimited data sounds great, this is not 5G speed. Downloading a weather update that takes a few seconds ashore can take 5 minutes by satellite. Still, as they say, up north, it’s better than nowt. And the ability to communicate with others way out of VHF radio range is brilliant. Satellite email is what we used to get updates from MetBob, who, spookily, knew precisely where we were at all times. As convenient as the IridiumGo! is (and they must be very proud of it to put an exclamation mark after its name), if Elon Musk’s Starlink eventually make a device for boats to access broadband on the move, we will consign the Iridium to the store cupboard on favour of faster internet and 22nd-century software.
We often get asked if we are bored on a voyage. The answer to that is a definite no.
Being on passage is a great time to catch up with reading, audiobooks, and podcasts. Unfortunately, I’ve read so much that I’m running out of books to read on the Kindle now.
Maria listens to more audiobooks than I do. She can stay awake listening to them, but they have a hypnotic effect on me. It takes me twice as long as it should to complete one because I have to keep rewinding to the point where I fell asleep. And I don’t need any help with that on passage. There’s a good reason why the sound of the ocean features on many relaxation tracks. I could sleep for most of the day. And I doubt that would be a problem here – there’s nothing around.
We’ve also discovered the latest craze of “Wordle”, and it works without the internet, so competition is fierce aboard Jamala. But, of course, if that doesn’t keep us occupied, then there are always haircuts and cleaning!
Arrival in French Polynesia
We arrived in Taiohae Bay in the afternoon on Tuesday 22nd March, and because we had spent so much time here, it felt like coming home. It was too late to clear in though, so we invited Willem from S/Y Rambler onboard for reunion drinks.
The next morning we took the dinghy over to Nuku Hiva Yacht Services and met Kevin who was helping us clear in at the gendarmerie. The clearing in process went well with his help, far quicker than it would have been if left to the two Jamala numpties as there was a mountain of forms to complete, many of them in ‘French Official.’ We received our clearance papers only five minutes after walking into the Gendarmerie. That is a record for us.
The plan is to spend a week or so here, do some post-passage cleaning and maintenance and some hiking around. After that we intend to fill the gaps by visiting some of those places we haven’t been, before heading to the southern islands.